Friday, April 18, 2008

Smoke on the Water.... and in the Sky Over Buenos Aires

Argentina Fires
Image from AP

We can't go outside tonight. The smoke is just too much. My wife's throat is irritated and I'm getting a headache from the fumes. It is 2:00am, and I have had to shut off all the air conditioners in the apartment because they are sucking in the fowl smell of burnt grass.

You may have noticed the news reports. Over 70,000 hectares of grasslands in the river delta region 300 km north of Buenos Aires have been burning. The fires are sending smoke all the way down to Buenos Aires and even over to Montevideo in Uruguay.

The blog, Still Life in Buenos Aires, has a good NASA photo of the area affected.

It seems that in the winter, farmers in the delta marshland use an age old slash-and-burn technique to clear dry grass and improve the land for grazing cattle. Normally, it is not a big deal. But this year, someone started a little early and the fire got out of hand because of the climatic conditions.

After a week or more of the smoke, 70,000 toasted hectares and several deaths on the highways due to the thick smoke, the government has finally labeled it a crisis. But rather than make much progress in fighting the real fire, they seem more interested in playing with political fire.

The government has used this crisis to their advantage in the farm strike negotiations, labeling the fires the result of greedy farmers that burned the land "to reduce costs and maximize profits, regardless of the consequences."

And of course this great quote circulating all the wire services:
“This is the largest fire of this kind we’ve ever seen,” said the interior minister, Florencio Randazzo. “It was started by farmers clearing land for cattle grazing, driven by greed for profit and with total disregard for human life.”

Because the area is a protected wetland, the use of chemicals and pesticides is banned. The marshland consists of 100s of islands with no roads and the only way in or out is by boat. Using heavy equipment is cost prohibitive, so the farmers have used the slash and burn technique for many years.

The only problem, there were never any safeguards put in place to prevent the tragedy we have now. But the government claiming that heads are going to roll and this is all the result of greedy farmers acting irresponsibly, sounds a bit like the Prefect of Police in the movie Casablanca claiming, "I'm shocked that gambling is going on here!" when he had been well aware of it all along.

Leave it to this government to use a crisis to drive a wedge and divide its people more.

I just don't understand this type of politics.


Anonymous said...

Do you know if the smoke is getting worse or is getting since it began days ago? You mean the government is still playing politics even at the expense of its people's health. Huh? Why?

Longhorn Dave said...

The fires were started 15 days ago. Because this is a normal annual occurrence, no one including the government payed it any attention until it was too late.

What made it worse this year? The fires were started earlier and there were more of them because farmers needed more land cleared. The land normally for cattle has been planted with soybean.

The government's reaction has been slow. This is compounded by the fact that the Delta area is very remote and the only way into a lot of the fires is by boat.

The government just doesn't own the proper Air borne equipment to fight this kind of fire.

The timing of the fires and the drought condition combined to make it a big crisis.

I have not seen the government on the TV with a plan of attack. Only angerly pointing blame at the farmers (who are responsible, but only a small handful)

Instead, we get to see Cristina on the TV complaining how it is ruining all of her clothes.

Anonymous said...

Nah, you have to be kidding about the "complaining about it ruining her clothes part, right?" I mean come on, I am just away from BsAs for sometime but I would like to think my elderly neighbors are not suffering because of this. The little ones that are running around would be cooped up inside the house, how terrible. Finger pointing never helped anybody. (sigh)

Anonymous said...

There might be more going on here than meets the eye. The timing of the fires looks suspicious to me coming in the middle of the negotiations with the farmers. Could it be that the government itself had something to do with the fires? It will be interesting to see if there is a real investigation.

The government doesn't seem to be making that big of an effort to get the problem under control. Sure they don't have aerial equipment but I'll bet with a couple of phone calls equipment could be borrowed
from some other country.

Nerd Progre said...

Hi there, nice blog you have.

"Instead, we get to see Cristina on the TV complaining how it is ruining all of her clothes."

I'm sick and tired of comments like this. You can say "I hate Cristina because Argentina has deals with Chavez" or "I hate Cristina because of State intervention in the economy (ie. price accords in some foods like meat and milk etc), because I think the Free Market should reign and if prices have to go up, let they go up". And I would understand that.

But this irrational finger pointing, trying to paint a picture of a government that "doesn't care" is irrational. No government official wants to be in the spotlight or face ANY crisis. No government official likes to see a fire like what we had to endure.

Yes, out government doesn't have the means and resources to fight those kind of fires.

Read about Argentina's history in the last 50 years and you'll see that we only had FISCAL SURPLUSES in the last 5-6 years. Fiscal and trade surpluses didn't happen since the 1960s!. It's been downhill ever since, until the economy started to rebound in 2002-2003.

Do you expect that a country can recover from all those decades of "government downsizing" and fiscal crises overnight? Of course it cannot.

I'm middle class, I'm an IT guy, I often avoid politics and focus on software, hardware, and new technologies, but it drives me crazy to see the hatred towards the Kirchners, fueled by the private media and plenty in the argentine high class who hate them just because she's a peronist and center-left leaning.

PS: I'd love to see if farmers could have gotten away with the level of voilence that they showed during the "strike" in the U.S.A.

Puncturing trucks tires, threatening truck drivers, leaving people stranded in highways for 14 days, etc etc.

It wasn't a strike, it was a blockade. They wanted the empty supermarket shelves (which they achieved, partly) trying to get middle class discontent leading to the cacerolazos (which they achieved).

Just as they did with Allende in Chile.

Longhorn Dave said...


Thanks for shaking things up around here. We welcome open debate here.

To be fair about the Cristina quote, here is the exact quote from Bloomburg that inspired that line in my blog post:

"Yesterday, the air in Buenos Aires was unbreathable, people's eyes burned and the smoke infiltrated our clothes"

However, she still offered no real solution to deal with the fire. Just making sure the farmers were going to pay with legal action against them.

In the United States, UK, Japan, or any other nation in the first world we expect our leaders to lead. After all they are leaders. That means in times of crisis they should be out leading the charge to solve it.

I understand not having equipment because of past hardships. But what was wrong with picking up the phone and asking Chile, Brazil, Uruguay to help? I'm sure Chavez would of help send equipment. Seems he had $800,000 he was willing to give Cristina, why not a few planes?

Your arguement is mindblowing when you say, "No government official wants to be in the spotlight or face ANY crisis."

¿Porque no? Leaders are in politics because they love the spotlight.

A politician, especially here, IS expected to face crisis every day and solve them to the best of their ability. If they don't they get voted (or thrown) out!

Anonymous said...

fernando, dejate de joder.
te pagan acaso?
por Dios.

Nerd Progre said...

Sorry, I've been busy and didn't remember to post my follow-up. [I will, of course, ignore Mr. 'Anonymous Coward' accusing me of being paid.]

Dave, I'm afraid you misunderstood my point, or I wasn't clear enough. When I said "No government official wants to be in the spotlight" I didn't mean government officials don't want public attention, I meant that it's silly to think that a government official would "do nothing" on purpose and allow himself to be in the spotlight, with all fingers pointing at him/her as incompetent.

Let me rephrase: the goverment DID do anything at his disposal and the fires were eventually estinguished, using a combination of land forces, boats, choppers and planes. All means available were used.

The magnitude of the fire was such and the environmental conditions (winds, etc) were such that didn't allow attacking it by air during the first days.

News channel TN showed images of the army Bell 212s used as well as planes. See here.

You say: "she still offered no real solution to deal with the fire. Just making sure the farmers were going to pay with legal action against them." not true... the choppers, brigadists, and planes were not computer-generated images, those were real.

There's a difference between means being stretched thin and "offering no real solution".

You say: "In the United States, UK, Japan, or any other nation in the first world we expect our leaders to lead. After all they are leaders. That means in times of crisis they should be out leading the charge to solve it."

I didn't see the government "not leading"... they were taking care of the problem from day one when they suspended traffic movement on the roads affected by the smoke. Yet, I had the chance of seeing on TV some idiots that BLAMED THE GOVERNMENT for cutting the road traffic, saying something like "it's my life, I know what I'm doing, and if I want to pass through the government can't deny me the right". I-D-I-O-T-S....

With regards to U.S.A. and other "first world" countries, it's not like this never happens up there and the government fights the fires in 48 hours.

Up to 1,000 Homes Destroyed in California Fires

"High winds that stoked flames and kept water tanker planes from taking off are hampering efforts to more aggressively combat the fires raging through Southern California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said Tuesday.

The governor praised efforts by local, state and federal authorities and dismissed criticisms that the state had not implemented rapid-response protocols implemented after the 2003 wildfires.

A dozen wildfires raging across the state have destroyed more than 370,000 acres and left more than 300,000 residents fleeing the carnage as gale force winds and dry conditions fueled the inferno for a third day, according to estimates from various wire reports.

Schwarzenegger said 1,500 homes remain in danger and called on people in the area to evacuate. "

Like my British boss likes to say "people living in glass houses, should not throw stones".

I guess your reasoning does not apply to the recent California wildfires.

I hope by "thrown out" you don't mean removing a government elected by the popular vote less than a year ago. We had many such bad experiences in the last few decades down here. Including one sad Sept 11 day in Santiago, Chile.

Like I said, people living in glass houses should not throw stones...


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